How to invest in the data revolution

World Bank
Sep 25 · 7 min read
In a first, Bangladesh published quarterly poverty data with the support of the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB). Tracking poverty fluctuations within a year enables targeting of poverty reduction programs and review of progress towards accomplishing the SDGs. © Dominic Chavez / World Bank

For a policy maker who’s mapping the road towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), high-quality statistics are an essential tool to picture the terrain of their economy and its diverse inhabitants. And like the digital maps we have become used to — they need these essential statistics to be increasingly accurate, accessible, granular, and up-to-date.

Source: World Bank¹, UN Global SDG Database², OECD³

In recent years, the promise of harnessing data to monitor and achieve the SDGs has also galvanized the global development community. The gaps and variations in statistical capacity across countries are in focus, and the call to fund the modernization of National Statistical Systems has become clear.⁴

Who’s been addressing the funding gaps?

TFSCB works with statistical offices and ministries across the globe, often in challenging conditions. For instance, in Sudan
TFSCB works with statistical offices and ministries across the globe, often in challenging conditions. For instance, in Sudan
TFSCB works with statistical offices and ministries across the globe, often in challenging conditions. For instance, in Sudan it is helping improve administrative data collection and build the ‘data literacy’ skills of journalists, civil society, and staff in line ministries. © Ankur Nagar / World Bank

At the turn of the century, when the global community didn’t yet pay much attention to funding data and statistics, the World Bank set the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) in motion with donors including Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Since 1999, TFSCB has provided focused funding for the planning, production, dissemination, and use of timely statistics — such as National Strategies for the Development of Statistics (NSDS), household surveys, censuses, open data, and others — for low- and middle-income countries to promote a culture of evidence-based policy making.

For more details, refer to the TFSCB Annual Report, 2019

In line with the SDG-focused data paradigm, TFSCB expanded its focus in 2016 to explore data collection methods that use disruptive technologies, such as machine learning, remote sensing, crowdsourcing, and drones. This also involves supporting pilot projects that push the frontiers of analyzing development data — with a goal of mainstreaming successful interventions.

For more examples, refer to projects from 2017 and 2018 rounds of innovation funding. For the assessment of ML classification algorithms, see GitHub.

From surveying far-flung nomadic people in Mongolia, promoting open data in Vietnam, developing the economic census for Bhutan, preparing the NSDS for Egypt, initiating national accounts preparation in Djibouti, developing a conflict monitoring system in Nigeria, to many more projects — TFSCB works with national statistical offices (NSOs) and ministries across the globe, which often operate in challenging conditions.

What makes TFSCB’s funding effective?

In Mongolia, TFSCB has supported a survey on nomadic households in remote rural areas to enable inclusive decision-making, wh
In Mongolia, TFSCB has supported a survey on nomadic households in remote rural areas to enable inclusive decision-making, wh
In Mongolia, TFSCB has supported a survey on nomadic households in remote rural areas to enable inclusive decision-making, which ‘leaves no one behind’. © Erdene Orchir Badarch / World Bank

As the investor’s mindset takes hold around the funding for development data, referring to data as the ‘new oil’ is already cliché. From the TFSCB perspective, a better analogy to think about the potential of data can be to harnessing renewable energy amid a constantly evolving ecosystem.

With its unique focus on responding to urgent country demands while keeping the long-term perspective — TFSCB has developed its capacity to quickly adapt to changing country priorities and generate lasting impact with relatively small grants, typically less than US$500 thousand.

TFSCB financing across programs (for projects active in June 2019)

Bar sizes represent total grants for a country/region under the associated TFSCB program. Data: World Bank

Here are some of the reasons why TFSCB funding has been effective across two decades for strengthening the foundations of national statistical systems, and pushing the frontiers of development data with innovative initiatives:

Being agile to meet country demands

From the outset, TFSCB had been designed as a funding instrument with high-flexibility and a broad scope of working across countries and themes. While continuing to support its core priorities of statistical capacity building and NSDS, TFSCB has frequently introduced fresh programs in response to the changing statistical environment and emerging country demands. These programs include: Open Data (2012); Data Production (2015); Innovations in Development Data (2016); and Inclusive Data (2019).

Catalyzing country ownership and sustainable funding

As its grant sizes are relatively small, TFSCB strives to fund projects that can catalyze ongoing support for statistical capacity building. This involves providing quick-disbursing grants for projects that address critical data needs and generate statistics that countries and donors find beneficial to allocate subsequent funds towards. TFSCB’s grants also work well for countries to pilot international best practices, which may not otherwise be feasible through country-owned projects.

Fostering collaborations for every context

Since TFSCB’s work includes projects that are country-specific, regional, and global, the trust fund has developed close collaborations at every level. For instance, in Lebanon, TFSCB helped hospitals collaborate with the Ministry of Public Health to develop the National Vital Data Observatory. As an example of collaboration at the regional level, TFSCB helped train staff across five small-island countries in the Caribbean to harmonize energy statistics. At the global level, TFSCB helps scale good practices across countries. The BOOST methodology, a cost-effective approach to collect public finance data — which was piloted in Uganda — was applied to National Education Accounts in Kosovo, Burkina Faso, and Togo with TFSCB support.

What’s next for financing SDG data needs?

The need for a TFSCB-like fund that has deep county connections remains strong. For instance, in Guatemala, TFSCB is helping build statistical capacity for the Ministry of Education. © Maria Fleischmann / World Bank

While policy makers increasingly demand high-quality, fine-grained data to navigate towards the SDGs, countries are gearing up for an exciting, yet challenging time. They not only need to ramp up their technical ability to provide data for SDGs, they also have to leapfrog their capacity to be in step with the new data providers and users joining the data revolution.

In addition, the context in which economies operate are also changing — to tackle data gaps around urgent challenges like climate change, migration, and epidemics, governments need to push the frontiers of data methods and technologies in collaboration with the data community beyond the NSOs.

This requires resources, and the estimated gaps in official development assistance to meet the SDG data needs currently range between US$100 million to US$700 million per year.⁸ Meanwhile, TFSCB — a seasoned provider of funding for development data — is nearing its closing in 2020.

As the funding support for SDG data is currently fragmented⁴, the global community needs a coordinated, global financing facility — which can harmonize resources to address country needs for SDG data and to meet the priorities of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data (CTGAP).

While the conversation crystallizes and a new facility for SDG data is devised, the demand for the services of a seasoned-yet-flexible fund like TFSCB — which has decades of on-the-ground experience; deep connections in the NSO and statistics community; and a strong record of meeting country needs — will remain, if not increase further, to effectively deploy the funding for SDG data.

In the coming months we will compile and share lessons learned from TFSCB’s work to inform the conversation around the new financial facility; and to nudge the global development community to continue TFSCB’s work on essential statistics with governments and maintain financial support to help scale proven ideas with innovative teams.

So, keep an eye on this space, and take a look at our previous blog about the integrated household survey in Sierra Leone conducted while the country was striving to recover from the Ebola outbreak.


  1. Serajuddin, Umar; Uematsu, Hiroki; Wieser, Christina; Yoshida, Nobuo; Dabalen, Andrew L.. 2015. Data deprivation : another deprivation to end (English). Policy Research working paper; no. WPS 7252. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group
  2. United Nations Global SDG Indicators Database, as of August 6, 2019
  3. OECD (2017), Development Co-operation Report 2017: Data for Development, OECD Publishing, Paris
  4. Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, United Nations Statistics Division
  5. Statistical Capacity Development Outlook 2019, PARIS21
  6. Voices: Perspectives on Development; “Data for development impact: Why we need to invest in data, people and ideas”, by Haishan Fu, World Bank
  7. Report of the Fourteenth Meeting of the TFSCB Advisory Panel, World Bank
  8. PARIS21 (2019), “Financing challenges for developing statistical systems: A review of financing options”, PARIS21 Discussion Paper, №14, Paris

Read more World Bank blogs and stories.

World of Opportunity

Stories and blogs on ending extreme poverty worldwide.

World Bank

Written by

The World Bank has two ambitious goals: End extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity.

World of Opportunity

Stories and blogs on ending extreme poverty worldwide.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade